May 22, 2011
San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico
Well the world didn’t end last night, so we can all breathe a sigh of relief, or have a brief chuckle, depending on your preferences. I was sitting in the town square and thinking about the many influences that come together to make this small city in central Mexico the jewel that it is. There was a light show and it was fantastic. Pulsing images climbed the cathedral. La Virgen Maria made an appearance, as well as Hidalgo. It was Saturday night and I saw worlds collide. I had to pinch myself to remember that I wasn’t at the Fillmore West in 1969 listening to and watching John Mayall spin his magic. This was different, but not different enough that I couldn’t see the trains of my life weaving themselves together.
It was near San Miguel Allende in 1968 that Beat pivot man Neal Cassady died. While Cassady did not leave a voluminous body of work, the writings that he inspired and the people who looked to him as their leader changed America forever. Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Hunter Thompson, the Grateful Dead, were all on Cassady’s bus. Cassady was a leader, but the opposite of a Guru. His message was live your own life, and don’t wait for permission. If you want to go, get on the bus, if you don’t, get off. Even more than Peace and Love the 60s were about freedom, and Neal Cassady was perhaps the freest of them all.
San Miguel Allende is a paradox. It is the closest thing to Europe that I have seen outside of Europe, but it has not lost in Mexicaness. Many Americans, Canadians and Europeans now call this small city home. There are luxury condominiums and villas at every turn, but the show Saturday night was Mexico.
Many Americans get their view of Mexico from the tabloids. Shocked and scandalized by the brutality of the “narcotraficantes” that bombards their news broadcasts. There is little or no difference on what is going on in Mexico today with what went on in the 20s and 30s with alcohol prohibition. But that’s another story.
I get my news from John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I get it the next day off the internet and wonder how long their corporate masters will allow them to continue. The one thing power cannot abide is ridicule. Colbert and Stewart are too young to remember what happened to the Smothers Brothers in the 60s. Their pointed barbs proved too much to bear for the power structure. And in case people forget that power structure was the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Jim Crow, until Lyndon Johnson took a stab at finally fulfilling the American promise of universal equality.
Johnson’s great misfortune or error or whatever you wish to call it is that he tried to champion universal civil rights at the same time that he sought to be the good soldier against the communist threat in Asia. He knew that pushing the Civil Rights Act was sacrificing his party’s dominance, but I believe he went ahead and did it for principal. The bigots ran into the open arms of the Republicans and have now destroyed the party of Lincoln. The “Left” ran away because of Viet Nam, and Johnson was isolated and left office rather than face defeat. Johnson had feet of clay as many great men do, but more than anyone he was responsible for the election of my cousin Barack Obama as president. We are in tumultuous times again. The forces of corporate greed have enrolled the disaffected Dixie diehards as their foot soldiers and seek to turn the once proud party of Lincoln and TR into a fascist shell of its former self. I hope that Stewart and Colbert don’t go the way of the Smothers Brothers, or worse, Lenny Bruce. The movie Lenny was on the other night and I watched it for the first time in many years.
My goal here is to pull a Ben Franklin. I’m in San Miguel Allende to see if I can become of some use to the community, and thereby earn a living. The Mexicans of this town still know what it is to pay your own way by contributing, and that’s what I intend to do. And the light shows are pure gravy, or should I say salsa.
And Neal Cassady’s road continues. He is probably better known today than when he died. Kerouc et al have come alive to a whole new generation of writers and poets. Perhaps death is what Walter Russell called being refolded. Nothing ends, it just gets repurposed and seen from a different point of view. Cassady is still moving and he has moved some of us to the point that our trajectory is so influenced by his trajectory that we don’t perceive his movement.